The three-time Defensive Player of the Year, whom the Lakers acquired from the Orlando Magic by way of a blockbuster four-team trade this summer, hasn't seen the light of live game action since going under the knife in late April to repair a herniated disc in his back.
The decision regarding Howard's activation will hinge on his performance during workouts on Saturday.
As Lakers head coach Mike Brown told Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News following the team shootaround in Las Vegas on Friday:
If he practices tomorrow and our medical people at the end of practice say he can play, he's going to play. People keep asking me and that's the answer that I've given. But people have taken that answer and assume Dwight's playing. The funny thing about it is people that are printing that, there is a chance he may not play Sunday.
Leave it to Mike Brown, Metta World Peace's favorite stats guy, to be a wet blanket about it. Howard's been participating in full-contact five-on-five drills in practice since last week, so it stands to reason that he'd be nearing a return to the hardwood.
Brown's attempts to temper expectations aren't likely to quell the excitement that's been building in L.A. in anticipation of seeing the new-look Lakers in the flesh (for those fortunate enough to get Time Warner Cable Sports Net, anyway). Though Howard's first performance as a Laker just might.
Remember, he hasn't played in a "real" game in more than six months. Even if his back is fully healed and the rest of his body is in peak condition (which it probably isn't), there's still the matter of Howard reacclimating himself to NBA speed and physicality.
It'll take time for him to work his way back into proper basketball shape—perhaps weeks, if not months.
Let's not forget, either, that the NBA preseason is meaningless.
It'd be nothing short of stunning if Howard played more than 20 minutes on Sunday, considering how Brown limited the Lakers' principals (Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol) to 19, 19 and 15 minutes, respectively, during the team's preseason opener against the Golden State Warriors.
But for the sake of enjoyment, let's forget about qualifiers for a moment.
DWIGHT HOWARD IS (almost) BACK!
Isn't that reason enough for excitement?! Finally, the world will presumably get to see Howard running the pick-and-roll with Steve Nash, working the high-low with Pau Gasol, taking orders from Kobe and imposing his will on the defensive end.
And, most importantly, not being Andrew Bynum.
It's not as though Howard's first opponents will be just any seven-foot stiffs, either. Rather, he'll be matched up against DeMarcus Cousins, one of the sport's most promising young bigs, and Jason Thompson, a solid rebounder in his own right.
If we're lucky, we might even see Howard embarrass Thomas Robinson, the rookie out of Kansas, or go toe-to-toe with the notoriously tough but vastly undersized Chuck Hayes.
And really, who cares if the game doesn't count? Who cares that he'll be sitting on the bench in the third (if not the second) quarter, joking and giggling on the sidelines while Greg Somogyi and Ronnie Aguilar jockey for playing time to avoid getting cut by the team?
It's Dwight Howard! In a Lakers uniform! And he might actually look good! And if he does, then all of Lakerdom is going to explode!
It is basketball's version of "Manifest Destiny"—franchise-changing center gets drafted into the league. Franchise-changing center develops into a superstar. Franchise-changing center winds up in a Lakers uniform and (in all likelihood) builds up his jewelry collection.
I'm interested, if not outright excited, to see what these Lakers have in store, even if the regular season is still a little over a week away.
I'm interested enough to seek out some friends with whom to watch the game on Sunday, since I have DirecTV at home (thanks again, Time Warner).
Note: I'd like to thank the commenters for cluing me in to the fact that Dwight's debut will be broadcast on NBA TV. Halle-frickin'-lujah!
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